Saturday, April 8, 2006

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April's Books on the Month

This month's international relations book is Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. Here's the Publisher's Weekly summary:

Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.
I think Goldsmith and Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code.... at least, that's what I said on the back cover. So go check it out.

If you need further convincing, check out Wu and Goldsmith's exchange in Slate with Glenn Reynolds from last week.

For a change of pace, the general interest book is a novel: Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I've been a big fan of Goodman's for quite some time, but this is her best novel by far, because this time around Goodman marries her impeccable narration to a great plot. It's about a struggling cancer lab, a post-doc that stumbles into an apparent breakthrough, the ways in which that breakthrough disrupts the dense network of friendships that allows the lab to function, and what happens when the breakthough is called into question. With Intuition, Goodman managed to pull off the double-coup of earning rave reviews from the Economist and Entertainment Weekly.

Here are three reasons why Intuition is so good (there are many more than three). First, Goodman nails both the quotidian and the big picture aspcts of what it is like to do research for a living. Joy, despair, jealousy, competition, curiosity -- she gets it. Second, and more important, Goodman has created characters with motivations that are simple and yet not so simple. One can try to come up one-sentence explanations for why the protagonists do what they do, and fail -- because real people don't operate like that most of the time. Third, Goodman manages to convey the horrors of what happens to everyone involved when accusations of scientific malfeasance become public knowledge. For anyone who's held a research position, that section of the book will be a gripping read.

Go check them out!

posted by Dan on 04.08.06 at 01:08 PM


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